Dr David Tuller: Professor Crawley Was Asked to Correct Ethics Statements in 11 Papers; 7 Are Still Uncorrected

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Trial By Error: Professor Crawley Was Asked to Correct Ethics Statements in 11 Papers; 7 Are Still Uncorrected
29 August 2022 by David Tuller 1 Comment

By David Tuller, DrPH

A few years ago, a valued source alerted me to a strange quirk in the work of pediatrician Esther Crawley, Bristol University’s methodologically and ethically challenged star researcher and grant magnet. Not all tips are reliable, but this one definitely was. As it turned out, Professor Crawley had–based on a single 2007 letter from a local research ethics committee (REC)– exempted a whole batch of separate studies from ethical review. (I first reported on this peculiar situation in November, 2018.)

In each of these eleven papers, the ethics statement went something like this:
“The North Somerset and South Bristol Research Ethics Committee decided that the collection and analysis of these data was part of service evaluation and as such did not require ethical review by a NHS research ethics committee or approval from the NHS R&D office (REC reference number 07/Q2006/ 48).”

The reference number—which identified the REC letter in question—was the same for each paper. It seemed pretty brazen of Professor Crawley to exempt eleven studies from ethical review by citing a letter issued in connection to a completely unrelated previous data collection effort. The system of academic ethical review, which is supposed to protect human research subjects, does not usually work this way.

At issue was whether the cited studies met criteria to be considered “research” or whether they were instead “service evaluation.” The former requires ethical review, while the latter—which involves the use of anonymized data to track and monitor the provision of specific services—does not. It was astonishing that an experienced investigator like Professor Crawley appeared to believe she possessed an unfettered right to exempt her own work from proper oversight by referencing an REC decision about something else entirely.

In any event, I alerted the Health Research Authority, the agency within the UK’s National Health Service that monitors local RECs. ................................